A Zealot's Destiny - Chap. 1

MedAir Series #5

384 pgs

Available in paperback and eBook

Chapter One

Prince Gregory raised his nose in the air and sniffed. He furrowed his brow at the odor and summoned his Chief of Staff from across the room.

“Is that gas I smell? The rest of the family will be arriving shortly.”

Gregory turned fifty-six that day and the extended family now began to assemble to celebrate. Some of them had already arrived, and the last thing he needed was to evacuate his home because of some minor gas leak.

The aide sniffed the air as well, and shook his head. “I don’t believe so, sir. The exterminators were out this morning while you were in the city. They assured me there would be no residual odors but I’m afraid they were in error.”

The prince looked at his watch and then back toward his assistant. “Are you quite sure? I’ve never smelled bug spray like this.”

The man smiled and looked at his employer. “Sir, can you tell me when you’ve ever smelled bug spray?”

The prince cocked his head, looked askance, and then smiled. “Right, Geoffrey. Now that you say that, I’m not sure I have. Well, at least since boarding school.”

Geoffrey was correct. The Royal Family never had to put up with certain occurrences of daily life. Services such as exterminators, plumbers, and the like worked whatever hours were necessary to avoid inconvenience to the family.

Besides, The Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, a thirty-room mansion on the Grade II list of royal residences, was in tip-top shape. The prince had spent £7.5 million to fully restore the grand building, its grounds with eight additional staff buildings, and the private chapel. The buildings underwent inspection routinely, and maintenance was scheduled and proactive. The odds of a gas leak were nil.

He walked about the room, sniffing. The odor was indeed faint, but seemed strongest near the front hallway.

“My older brother should be here momentarily. His youngest son is escorting the Queen and they’re running late. Please inform security.” He reflected on the still present odor. “And, please have someone check the gas lines.”

The aide nodded. “Yes, sir. In fact, I will check the basement area myself, for expediency. It might take time to get one of the maintenance workers here, being supper time and all.”

“Thank you, Geoffrey.

*     *     *

Geoffrey Hand had been Prince Gregory’s Chief of Staff for over fifteen years and adored the Royal Family. As a boy, he had daydreamed of being a rugged prince and finding a beautiful princess to take as his bride. Of course, that would never be, but the idea had led him to work hard at school, excel at sports, and join the military for a brief stint.

And yet, it was the one sport he failed to master that caught royal notice. Polo. He nearly fell off the horse with every swing of his mallet. After one disastrous practice match, where he did indeed fall from his mount, he rose from the ground to find the prince offering him a hand up, while calling him the worst polo player he’d ever seen. From there, the friendship grew and this position had been offered him. How could he refuse? Now, he and his wife of thirty years lived on the grounds and they hobnobbed with royalty … within limits. He would do anything for the family.

Geoffrey walked through the kitchen and found the staff scurrying about. They didn’t cater to the Queen frequently, so he knew they were seeking perfection. Besides, the entire, immediate Royal Family would be attending. They sought to please more than just Her Majesty.

“Are any of the maintenance fellows still about?”

Simultaneously, half the heads in the room shook negatively.

“Do you smell gas?”

The head cook looked at him askance. “Seriously? We’re in the kitchen. Look about. How many gas burners do you see working at the moment? Do we smell gas? When don’t we smell gas in here?”

Geoffrey chuckled. “Sorry. The prince is smelling gas and I’m to investigate.”

Another cook pointed with her thumb over her right shoulder. “That way to the basement.”

He nodded. He knew how to get there. Walking down the hall, he came to the door leading to the basement and stopped. He looked around for other staff members to question about what he had found, but saw no one. Of course, it was late and only the kitchen staff remained to prepare for the birthday party and to feed the drivers who would be missing their own meals while carting the family members from place to place.

Again, he turned toward the door and stared at it. Someone had sealed the door with clear tape, like that used for packages. Someone walking past would be unlikely to notice it in the dim evening light. In fact, he had not noted it until grabbing the doorknob and feeling resistance.

Curious, he thought. Was there some reason for this?

He began to peel away the tape, taking care not to damage the paint, if possible. Soon, he freed the door and opened it. Gas! Prince Gregory’s nose had been correct. He had to warn them and clear the building.

He turned and found himself facing a member of the security team.

“You there. There’s a gas leak. We must evacuate the building immediately. I’ll go alert the prince.”

The man’s hand flew up toward Geoffrey and a piercing pain shot through his chest toward his back. He looked down to see a narrow blade thrust upward into his chest from just below his sternum. He knew it to be a fatal injury.

The man made two quick, additional movements and Geoffrey could feel the warmth of his life’s blood filling his chest, his breathing becoming difficult. His death would be quick, but he feared for the Royal Family. Were they about to die in a fiery explosion?

His thoughts turned toward his wife and children. He longed to see them one more time, to hold his wife, to tell his kids how proud he was of them. To tell them all how much he loved them.

He could no longer talk, to ask “Why?” Yet, in a flash he understood why. He …

“Allahu akbar,” whispered the man.

The man opened the door and Geoffrey felt strong hands grab him. The last thing he remembered as he toppled down the stairs was the smell of gas and the door closing behind him.

*     *     *

Prince Gregory paced in the foyer as his extended family gathered in the drawing room. His daughters had been excited to see their cousins. His younger brother and his family had arrived first, followed by his sister and her family. The latest to arrive was his older brother, Peter, the Prince of Wales and next in line to the throne, with his wife. Peter’s youngest son, Prince Alexander, was escorting the Queen.

The smell hadn’t changed and Geoffrey had not returned. Gregory had not forgotten the plot to assassinate his mother that had led to a drone strike killing two British citizens who had joined ISIS in the Middle East.

“Sir?”

He turned to find one of his security men extending his hand with a note.

“Have you seen Geoffrey?”

“No, sir. Do you wish for me to chase him down?”

“Yes, please.”

The prince took the note. His mother had just left Windsor Castle and would be there in minutes. The note also mentioned that Prince Arthur, the Duke of Cambridge, Peter’s eldest son and second in line to the throne, and his family would be delayed. No explanation was provided.

He walked into the drawing room and approached Peter.

“Mum is on her way. She should be here within minutes. I just received this note.” He handed it to his brother.

After reading the message, his brother nodded. “Morning sickness. This third pregnancy has gotten to Helen more than the first two. Arthur must have anticipated something like this. He had us bring a small gift for you in our car.” He looked about for someone on the staff. “Do you know if our drivers are still outside? I’ll have James bring it in.”

“I believe they’ve all gone to eat,” said his wife.

“Very well. Then, I’ll be just a minute. I’ll retrieve it and greet Mum at the same time.”

The two men walked together toward the front door.

“Tell me, Peter, do you smell anything? Gas, perhaps.”

The Prince of Wales stopped and sniffed. “Can’t say as I do, but the sniffer isn’t what it used to be. Mum’s the one to ask. Her nose still seems to pick up everything.” The security man opened the door and the Prince of Wales walked out into the evening chill.

Gregory stood in the doorway and watched his brother. He could see headlights in the distance. A car, presumed to be their mother’s, had come through the front gate.

At that moment, he felt a grumble in the floor that preceded a deafening roar behind him. He turned in time to see his home collapse around him and a fireball racing toward him. Unlike in the cinema, he had no time to escape.